This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?
By Steve Clemens. October 27, 2007

The chants rang out: “Who is a terrorist?” with the reply echoing, “Bush is a terrorist!” “This is what democracy looks like” – with the reply “Bush is what hypocrisy looks like!” Bless their hearts; people are angry and fed up with war and occupation. The need to vent their anger at the geo-political realities certainly seems necessary as the war for oil and domination continues in its fifth year - with signs that it might not abate until our military is completely broken or our political “leaders” grow some spine and stand up to the Administration.

I remember hearing Dick Gregory, the great humanitarian, civil rights activist, and comedian say during the protests against the Vietnam War, “If democracy is as good as we claim it is, we won’t have to shove it down others throats with the barrel of a gun. If it is so good, people will steal it!” The notion of going to war to establish “democracy” in the Middle East is preposterous. But chanting epithets on a street corner in south Minneapolis at noon on a sunny October day didn’t make me proud that “this is what democracy looks like” when it is coupled with angry personal taunts at the President or his policies.

Don’t get me wrong – I think those policies are not only misguided, wrong, and ultimately evil – and, yes, invading a nation which posed no threat to us and littering its countryside and cities with cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, and more “conventional” bombs dropped from thousands of feet above so the pilot cannot witness the human carnage below is an act of terrorism. But our political task is not to engage in self-righteous bombast but to find ways to invite our fellow country-folk (who voted in large numbers to keep Bush in power in 2004) to re-imagine what it could mean to renounce empire and rejoin the community of nations. Self-righteous anger can only get one so far – and we have an enormous job ahead of us to turn around the ship of state and convert it from a battleship to a hospital ship, cruise liner, or pleasure craft.

Do our signs and banners encourage dialog and conversion or do they serve as a bludgeon against our adversaries? Is our presence on the street corner friendly and inviting to those who might be ready to start on a new journey toward peacemaking?

I envision an open circle, welcoming for others to join in, holding candles lit up instead of cursing the darkness. Talking with each other, confessionally; what is it in my own lifestyle that encourages our political leaders to think that we want to maintain our comforts at the expense of others – thus requiring a military force to prevent others from getting what we have (to paraphrase LBJ before he invaded the Dominican Republic in the mid-60s.) Only when we are vulnerable to each other and open can we allow “the other” (be they our neighbors or even our “enemies”) to engage our common humanity and together seek a way out of our spiral of violence.

I stood silently with my rainbow-colored PEACE flag alongside my friends and fellow activists somewhat embarrassed at the projecting of evil solely on the other – the President and an ineffective Congress. Calling others “evil-doers” and labeling an “axis of evil” hasn’t worked out so well (in the long run) for President Bush. Why should we think it will work any better for us? Competent military leaders know you must “win the hearts and minds” of the nation you occupy to ultimately be successful. Maybe the peace community needs to recognize the same goal applies within our own nation which is presently “occupied” by the military-industrial complex.

Shouting and sloganeering rarely opens my heart to really listen to others. Can we find some other ways to offer our principled opposition to the war while inviting others into our (hopefully, expanding) circles?

14 Arrested at Headquarters of Local Arms Merchant

14 Arrested at Headquarters of Local Arms Merchant
By Steve Clemens. October 3, 2007 (published in

October 2nd has been declared by the United Nations as “International Day of Nonviolence” in honor of the life and witness of Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of the nonviolent movement that ended British colonial rule in India. For a second consecutive year, AlliantACTION has sponsored a march and presence at Alliant Techsystems headquarters in Edina, MN on that date to honor Gandhi’s birthday. The theme chosen this year to celebrate one of history’s greatest nonviolent activists was “Peace Conversion With No Loss of Jobs”.

AlliantACTION has held a weekly vigil in front of Alliant Techsystems (ATK) headquarters for more than ten years on every Wednesday morning. However, to honor Gandhi and to broaden the circle of protestors beyond the normal group of 20-50 activists, the group added to the weekly presence by gathering on Tuesday where close to 100 people marched to the entrance of ATK. In a nearby park the group began with a song and reciting a “Commitment to Nonviolence” pledge. A poem was read to the circle and a brief talk informed those gathered about “Why We Focus on Alliant Techsystems”. Besides objecting to “profiting from war and death” and that “ATK sells its weapons all over the world –in more than 60 countries”, specific mention was made to the “illegal and indiscriminate weapons” designed, manufactured, and sold by ATK. Cluster bombs, anti-personnel landmines, and depleted uranium weapons were included in the list.

After the group had marched down Lincoln Drive to arrive at Alliant’s headquarters driveway, the group again circled to sing, hear quotes from Gandhi, and hear about the history and struggles about “peace conversion” – the “beating of swords into plowshares” where the crowd was encouraged to think of what peaceful and helpful products and services could be performed and sold by companies rather than seeking profits through making weapons. As the group said, “Happy Birthday, Gandhi”, members of the action brought forth dolls, books, a blanket, stuffed animals, toys, and even a huge stuffed “Elmo” Sesame Street character – placing them in a large over-flowing basket. Each person made a statement about their desire for this company to convert from making bombs and bullets and instead make toys, books, wind turbines, or other life-affirming products. As one member placed a stuffed dog in the basket, he said, “Dogs give love unconditionally – that’s what children need –unconditional love, not cluster bombs.” The event organizers announced that all the toys and books collected were to be delivered to the Incarnation House shelter in south Minneapolis later that morning.

After the basket of toys was filled, several members of the group announced their intention to give the balloons they were carrying to ATK security personnel and Edina Police Officers who had placed themselves across the driveway to prevent the activists from attempting to enter the building. The balloons were offered to them “to give to your kids or grandkids in celebration of Gandhi’s birthday”. They read a brief letter addressed to Alliant personnel stating that they were carrying a notebook entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapon Manufacturers Under International Law” to give to them as well as asking the company to agree to “peace conversion with no loss of jobs”. Both the ATK security and the Edina police refused to accept either the offered balloons or the International Law documents before placing the 14 members of the group that ventured up the driveway under arrest for criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor in Edina.

A bright, rainbow-colored kite flew over the gathering with the inscription “PU / DU” in reference to the disgust over the sale of depleted uranium (DU) weapons made by the corporation. Members of the circle clapped and thanked those who had been arrested for their nonviolent convictions and then posed for a photo in front of the corporate logo sign by the driveway entrance. One of the closing songs sung by the group before disbanding was set to the tune of “Home on the Range” and written by one of the weekly vigil circle members. It began,

“Oh, Alliant Tech please,
We ask you to cease,
Making products that cause
Death and pain.
May you ever increase
In products of peace
For folks that will
Keep this world sane…”

Why Do We Focus on ATK?

Why Do We Focus on ATK?
By Steve Clemens, Gandhi’s Birthday Action, October 2, 2007

• They make illegal weapons
• They profit from war and death
• They sell their weapons all over the world
• This is their World Headquarters

1. Illegal Weapons:
According to the Laws of War and International Humanitarian, weapons which fail to discriminate between combatants and the civilian population are “indiscriminate” and, therefore illegal to be “manufactured, sold, stockpiled, or used.”
• Anti-personnel landmines – ATK is one of the leading manufacturers of landmines in the U.S. since it’s spin-off from Honeywell and has recently bragged about developing two new versions of “smart” ones called the Spider and the Matrix. Anti-personnel landmines have been declared illegal by Treaties although our country has refused to sign it. Since more than 80 nations world-wide have signed the Treaty, it is in effect.
• Cluster Bombs- ATK is one of only two manufacturers of the CBU-87, an air-dropped cluster munition used in both Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. Military. International Law experts state that a “dud rate” of greater than ½ of 1% would make this weapon “indiscriminate”. The cluster bombs ATK makes have been shown to have a “dud rate” of between a low of 5% and as high as 30% - and, as such, have been specifically mentioned in United Nations Resolutions as illegal because of their indiscriminate nature. Although the term used is “dud”, unexploded cluster bombs litter the landscape and explode for decades to come – often killing children and farmers.
• Depleted Uranium Munitions- The use of waste product from the enrichment of uranium, the hard, dense, yet still radioactive –and a toxic “heavy metal” to boot – depleted uranium bullets and artillery shells have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. Although difficult to prove scientifically, it is widely believed to result in cancers, birth defects, toxic poisonings and other deadly health maladies in both the civilian population and can affect the troops that use these weapons as well. Again, like cluster bombs, depleted uranium weapons are specifically outlawed by a UN Resolution.
• “The Gun that Can Shoot Around Corners”- (XM25 Air-Burst Assault Weapon) – Designed to explode beyond walls or other objects without being able to “see” what is behind them. Is it a combatant – or a child? What will happen when “criminal elements” in our society get a hold of them and use them against the police? By it’s very nature it is indiscriminate.
• Critical Components of Rockets and Missiles Designed to Deliver Nuclear Bombs- The rocket motors for the first-strike Trident Submarine nuclear missiles as well as the land-based Minuteman III nuclear missiles are made by ATK. These are weapons which, if used, can lead to a nuclear holocaust or the end of human life on this planet.

2. Profiting From Death:

Profits have soared since 9/11
ATK is the largest supplier of ammunition to U.S. Military –worth protesting even if it is not illegal.
Convicted of price-fixing by the U.S. Government! (AeroJet and ATK colluded to keep the prices of cluster bombs high by agreeing not to bid against each other.)

3. Selling Weapons All Over the World:

According to their own website, ATK has sales representatives in 60 different countries and sells to BOTH SIDES in some conflicts.

4. World Headquarters Are Here:

Housed in this building are the key decision-makers for this corporation. They bear a particular responsibility for the choices they make regarding what this company makes and sells. They are the ones who can choose Peace Conversion with no loss of jobs.

Please go to for more information on this Merchant of Death and the creative ways we have tried to nonviolently resist it.